The 2007-2008 year was one of impressive progress for state-funded preschool education. Overall, state programs made major progress in expanding enrollment and continued to raise quality standards. For the second year running per-child funding increased, reversing the prior downward trend in expenditures. However, despite the modest upward trend in spending overall, fewer states were confirmed as providing sufficient funding per child to meet our benchmarks for quality standards. In current economic circumstances, this shortfall is especially worrisome.
In the United States today, more than 80 percent of all 4-year-olds attend some kind of preschool program. About half of those (39 percent of all 4-year-olds) are enrolled in some kind of public program (state pre-K, Head Start or special education), with the other half enrolled in a private program. Most of the 4-year-olds in public programs attend state pre-K, which enrolls almost a quarter of the population at age 4. Unfortunately, these numbers vary tremendously by state. In Oklahoma nearly 90 percent of the 4-year-olds receive a free public education. At the
other extreme, as few as 10 percent are enrolled in public programs in some states. Private enrollment does not make up the differences in enrollment between these extremes.
Pre-K enrollment at age 3 is much more limited, primarily because public provision is so much lower. Enrollment in private programs is very similar at ages 3 and 4. Only 14 percent of 3-year-olds attend some type of public program, with barely 4 percent of 3-year-olds attending a state-funded pre-K program. Enrollment also varies dramatically by state, but most states serve less than 1 or 2 percent of their 3-year-olds outside of special education and Head Start.